Antiviral T Cell Response Triggers Cytomegalovirus Hepatitis in Mice

Livingston-Rosanoff et al., J. Virol. (2012) - PMID: 22993151

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One common sign of human cytomegalovirus infection is altered liver function. Murine cytomegalovirus strain v70 induces a rapid and severe hepatitis in immunocompetent mice that requires the presence of T cells in order to develop. v70 exhibits approximately 10-fold-greater virulence than the commonly used strain K181, resulting in a more severe, sustained, and lethal hepatitis but not dramatically higher viral replication levels. Hepatitis and death are markedly delayed in immunodeficient SCID compared to immunocompetent BALB/c mice. Transfer of BALB/c splenocytes to SCID mice conferred rapid disease following infection, and depletion of either CD4 or CD8 T cells in BALB/c mice reduced virus-induced hepatitis. The frequency of CD8 T cells producing gamma interferon and tumor necrosis factor in response to viral antigen was higher in settings where more severe disease occurred. Thus, virus-specific effector CD8 T cells appear to contribute to lethal virus-induced hepatitis, contrasting their protective role during sublethal infection. This study reveals how protection and disease during cytomegalovirus infection depend on viral strain and dose, as well as the quality of the T cell response.

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